Ballot Questions 4A and 4B: Cherry Creek School District asking for $185 million to offset COVID-19 budget cuts

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AURORA | Facing a projected $60 million budget shortfall over the next two years, the Cherry Creek School District is asking voters to approve a mill levy and bond increase this fall that would bring in a combined $185 million for the district.

Measure 4A, a mill levy override, would increase operating revenue by $35 million and bond measure 4B would raise $150 million to fund deferred maintenance and district projects.

There is so far no organized opposition to the measure.

The district’s funding was cut by $25 million for the 2020-2021 school year, and the state is projecting a $35 million cut next school year based on decreased tax collection revenue from COVID-19.

The 4A budget election would raise $35 million for the district to offset those cuts, and would be distributed proportionately to every school in the district.

The money from measure 4B would go towards $150 million in construction and deferred maintenance identified by a task force. The list includes renovations to Village East Elementary School, increased maintenance on aging schools, expanding the Cherry Creek Innovation Campus and safety and security upgrades, such as putting deadbolts on classroom doors in every school.

The money would also go toward the creation of a $7 million mental health day treatment center and a possible new elementary school on the east side of the district.

“It might be the most important $7 million this district ever spends,” Siegfried said.

The measure would cost homeowners $1.65 a month in new taxes per $100,000 of property value. Proponents say the net property tax increase is relatively low for the size of the package because the district would also be retiring older debt.

Though overall district enrollment has remained steady, Siegfried said a new elementary school is necessary because enrollment has increased in the southeast area of the district in Aurora.

“This will probably be our last school we ever build,” he said.

The mental health facility would be a K-12 facility created through a public-private partnership where students could go to receive mental health counseling without falling behind on their education.

“There are students who need more than we can give them at a comprehensive high school,” Siegfried said.

School board president and chair of the Yes on 4A and 4B campaign committee Karen Fisher said that though it’s only a small part of the $150 million the district is asking for, the mental health facility is one of the things the campaign has received the most questions about and most of the campaign committee’s fundraising has come from people who support creating the facility.

The district has already made $14.3 million in cuts this school year in the form of cutting positions away from the classroom, such as administrators, coaches and staff support. If the measures are approved, the district will still have a $10.7 million deficit based on current projections. If that number stays flat Siegfried said he believes the district can cover the shortfall with several furlough days. If the deficit ends up being larger, it may have to make more cuts.

Even if other measures are passed this November that would help districts get more money, such as the measure to repeal the Gallagher Amendment, the district will still be facing significant cuts.

“It wouldn’t be a fix,” Fisher said.

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